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So what’s the deadliest contagious disease in the world?  Ebola? SARS? West Nile Virus?  Surprise! It’s rabies, and it is found every year in Frederick County, Maryland. 

Rabies transmission from animals to humans has been documented as far back as 2300 BC!  With a fatality rate of very nearly 100% once clinical signs or symptoms are evident, this is a virus that is best combatted through prevention.

Every year, many thousands of people and pets get exposed to this virus, but thanks to prevention and treatment measures we have very few human fatalities in the United States.  According to Frederick County Health Department, nearly 100 people in Frederick county are treated with rabies post-exposure prophylaxis injections every year. 

Worldwide, the statistics are much more alarming- a recent report by the Global Alliance for Rabies Control estimates up to 59,000 human deaths annually!  The United States has an average of only two or three human deaths per year, thanks to aggressive control measures and prompt treatment of humans suspected to have been exposed to rabies. 

In our clinic, we see numerous unfortunate patients who are exposed to suspected or confirmed rabies carriers- Usually a raccoon, skunk, bat, fox, or cat.  So what do we do in these cases?  It depends… Let’s start with how rabies is transmitted:

  • Any mammal can carry rabies.  It is usually transmitted by saliva, which is introduced to a host animal (like you or your pet) through a bite wound.
  • While people (and pets) usually get rabies from the bite of an infected animal, in rare cases other modes of transmission are possible. For instance, saliva from a rabid animal on your pet’s fur may come into contact with an open wound on your skin.
  • In any scenario, if the suspected rabies carrier animal is available for testing, Animal Control will submit the animal and you will be informed of any exposure risk.

In the event of a possible or known exposure of a pet or farm animal, please call us to discuss the next steps you should take:

  • If your patient’s rabies vaccination is current, you will be asked to keep him/her under observation for 45 days.  We may administer another dose of the rabies vaccine as well.
  • Unvaccinated patients are most often euthanized!  If this is refused, a strict 6-month quarantine and vaccination protocol must be observed, and will be coordinated by county Animal Control.
  • Animals with expired vaccination status may be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, but are most often treated as unvaccinated, with a 6-month quarantine and vaccination protocol observed.

In short, vaccination is the best protection we have against rabies in our pets and farm animals.  Current rabies vaccination will make your life and your pet’s life much less complicated, and help avoid difficult and heartbreaking decisions should you have a possible exposure!  With vaccination required only every 3 years in previously vaccinated, adult dogs and cats, maintaining compliance is easy and inexpensive.  State law mandates rabies vaccination for all dogs and cats by 16 weeks of age! But it’s also good, sound medical practice that can dramatically improve your pets’ and family’s safety.  

Dr. Christopher N. Griffiths

Further reading:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov/rabies/index.html)

Frederick County Health Department


Frederick County Animal Control


Global Alliance for Rabies Control


Tags: rabies, rabies prevention